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MWC 2013: HP Slate 7 hands-on preview

The HP Slate 7 is a pretty low-end way to start a new tablet line. Running a mere $169 (£112), the Slate 7 is aimed to battle inexpensive tablets like the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7, not pricier models from Samsung and Apple. However, I was unimpressed during my hands-on testing, except for one promised feature I couldn't try: This tablet prints.

The Slate 7 is decently built for a budget tablet, but it still feels a little cheap. Running a vanilla version Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with some HP apps preloaded, the tablet has a rather dim 7in, 1,024 x 600 LCD screen surrounded by an extremely broad bezel. At 370 grams, it's heavier than Samsung's new 8in Galaxy Note 8.

The back looks appealing in bright orange or elegant silver soft-touch plastic with a 3-megapixel camera in the corner, but the volume rocker on the side feels stiff. There's 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage on board, along with a microSD card slot on the top.

Playing with the tablet, I found the 1.6GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 processor pushed the relatively limited pixels on the screen smoothly, but that screen just depressed me. This is probably because I just came from looking at the cheerfully bright IPS displays over at the LG booth, but a screen is your window to the world, and this window seems dim. HP touts the "high aperture ratio field fringe switching" LCD panel as having excellent viewing angles, though.

The Slate 7 also has Beats Audio, but I was unmoved. Even with Beats on, and Beats headphones connected, the Slate lacked the brain-massaging bass that I'm used to from HTC products with Beats. There was definitely a difference flipping Beats on and off – audio was even tinnier with Beats off – but there just wasn't much bass to be had anywhere.

The tablet lacks any special corporate security features, although HP said those kind of frills will come to other tablets in the future.

It prints!

The tablet's most impressive feature was one I wasn't able to use. Isn't that always the way? Anyway, as I’ve already mentioned, this slate prints.

This isn't just HP's downloadable ePrint app. According to HP's senior vice president of mobile, Alberto Torres, printing is plumbed into the OS so you can print from a range of different applications. You'll be able to print via Wi-Fi or, even more excitingly, by plugging your tablet directly into a printer with a USB cable.

"We know that one of the pain points from users in the mobile world is the ability to print," Torres said. "That's something we're definitely going to be addressing in a lot of ways."

Torres didn't have details on which printers could be plugged directly into the tablet, but he said it wouldn't just be HP models. A list of supported printers will be available soon, he said, and other future HP tablets would share these capabilities.

The HP Slate 7 looks to be a decent tablet for its price point. The printing capabilities and HP's reputation for service and support set it apart from other low-end and no-name tablets, and that means the device has a chance when it hits stores. I just wish HP, with its reputation for quality and its long history in mobile, had aimed a bit higher.

The HP Slate 7 is set to launch over in the US in April, and we’ll let you know about UK availability (and pricing) as soon as we hear anything.